The New York Giants are 7-3, riding a five-game winning streak. The Cleveland Browns are 0-11, have lost 21 of 22 and are combined 3-24 over the past two seasons. Picking this game should be easy. Call for a big victory by the Giants and be done with it. Right?
Well, not so fast.
The Giants ARE a 7-3 team. They have won five straight games. There is no denying that or taking it away from them. They are, however, a bit of an anomoly. They haven’t exactly dominated their way to 7-3.
Their point differential is only four, having outscored opponents this season, 204-200. Their biggest margin of victory is seven points, and their combined margin of victory is 27 points.
The Giants’ offense has hardly been firing on all cylinders. They are 23rd in the league in scoring, 31st in rushing, 22nd in yards, 30th in time of possession and 28th in giveaways. The Giants have yet to score 30 points in a game this season.
The defense has been improving, but the Giants are still middle of the pack in many defensive categories, including 20th in the league in takeaways and 29th in sacks.
The Giants have struggled on special teams, too. They are 28th in the league in DVOA, per Football Outsiders. We looked this week at their floundering return game and special teams coordinator Tom Quinn admitted that primary returner Dwayne Harris has been pressing in an effort to make plays.
All of that means the Giants are winning, but they have not exactly resembled an unbeatable juggernaut. All five of the victories in their current winning streak have been nail-biters, and four have ended with late defensive stops by the Giants.
They have been, as the saying goes, living dangerously.
They should defeat the Browns. And they could do so handily. Nothing, however, should be taken for granted. Especially since these are the Giants, a team that historically never seems to do anything the easy way.
The Giants, at least with their words, have indicated that they understand they can’t look past the Browns toward what promises to be a difficult season-ending five-game stretch.
“I don't have to try and tell them anything,” said coach Ben McAdoo. “You turn on the film and you watch the games, they've had a handful of games that have come down to the end. In this league, that's the way they go. We've been in a lot of close ball games. We have to prepare for 60 minutes, four plus quarters, whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said he figures that Cleveland “will probably get a win this year.”
“We're not going to let it be against us and we have to bring our A game,” Casillas said. “We’ve got to be on point. We're at their house and we're about to go on the road, we haven't been on the road in a while. It's going to be a tough game no matter what. ... A couple little sloppy pieces here and there can make a not so good record team look like a good team.”
Casillas is right. NFL games are usually decided by a touchdown or less. The Giants’ average scoring margin is 0.4 points per game. Only the Dallas Cowboys (9.3) and New England Patriots (9.1) have a scoring margin of more than a touchdown. So, 0-11 vs. 7-3 or not, it seems unlikely that the Giants will simply stomp all over Cleveland.
FiveThirtyEight says the Browns have only a 32 percent chance of becoming the second 0-16 team in NFL history (the 2008 Detroit Lions being the first), and gives them a 24.8 percent chance of beating the Giants on Sunday.
In the end, I do believe the Giants win on Sunday. I wouldn’t be completely shocked if they find a way to mess it up, but perhaps I have been planning for and looking forward to a season-ending five-game playoff run too long to predict that the Giants would actually lose on Sunday.
Final score: Giants 31, Browns 24